The Minnesota House of Representatives passed legislation on Saturday that would raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco and tobacco-related products to 21 years old.
The bill, which is similar to a federal one, applies to both traditional tobacco and e-cigarettes.
“Research shows that raising the tobacco age to 21 will prevent youth addiction and save lives,” Rep. Heather Edelson (D-49A-Edina), the sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. “Tobacco companies have been targeting youth to addict the next generation.
Edelson added that “astronomical” rates of vape use among teens has erased nearly two decades of limiting tobacco use and that raising the legal purchasing age can “interrupt the cycle,” as 95 percent of addicted adult smokers started before the age of 21.
“By taking a stand and saying that tobacco is not only the law of the land, but … the law of Minnesota … we are taking a stand, to say we are not going to turn the youth of Minnesota over to Big Tobacco once again,” said Rep. Laurie Halverson (D-51B-Eagan) in a statement.
In addition to raising the purchasing age, the bill also eliminates the petty misdemeanor charge for underage people who possess or purchase tobacco with a fake identification card, instead requiring non-monetary, civil penalties. It also increases the penalties for stores that sell to underage customers and allows licenses to be revoked for a third or subsequent violation.
Rep. Marion O’Neill (R-29B-Maple Lake) said she agrees with the legislation in concept, but that increased penalties are too high for retailers who made an honest mistake.
The penalties for retailers who sell tobacco to an underage customer are currently $75 for the first violation, $200 for the second violation and $250 for violations with 24 months of the initial violation. Under the new bill, penalties would be, respectively, $300, $600, and $1,000 for violations within 36 months of the initial violation.
Edelson said that the bill is an “important statement in the fight against rising youth tobacco use.”
“It is our turn to adopt this life-saving policy,” she said.
The bill will now go to the Senate.
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Jordyn Pair is a reporter with The Michigan Star. Follow her on Twitter at @JordynPair. Email her at [email protected]